STEELERS 2019 Draft Review

Talk about an important Draft for a successful team that lost two of it’s brightest stars this past off-season in ANTONIO BROWN and LE’VEON BELL. The team had 9 Picks when all the smoke had cleared in Nashville. They have also been quite busy in the URFA market. For a team that often “redshirts” most of their Rookies, it will be incumbent for HC MIKE TOMLIN and his staff to accelerate the learning curve, and get some of their younger players to step it up big time for the 2019 season.

Round 1, Pick 10
DEVIN BUSH LB MICHIGAN
5’11/234 4.44/40 PP#12
The team traded up to get BUSH, and I can see why. When I watch tape of this guy, and use a little imagination, I have very little trouble envisioning him doing the kind of things RYAN SHAZIER used to do for the team. Even though the STEELERS have taken care of SHAZIER as a family member, and his progress in rehab has been incredible, I cannot see him out on the football field in pads ever again. BUSH has the speed, FBI, intensity, and energy level to play all over the field like SHAZIER did, and re-solidify the middle of their Defense. I can guarantee you that a half dozen teams within the next 10 Picks had interest in BUSH. His height is totally irrelevant. He is an immediate starter and standout.

Round 3, Pick 66
DIONTAE JOHNSON WR TOLEDO
5’11/183 4.54/40 PP#127
This Pick was a surprise to me this early. JOHNSON caught the attention of a lot of scouts last Fall with his improved play. His 2018 stats included 49 receptions for 761 yards, and 8 TD’s. He also scored another 2 TD’s in his return work, where he averaged 18.5 yards on Punt returns and 25.8 yards on Kick-Off returns. He has nice big hands, (9 1/2″), for his overall body size. That 40-time is deceiving because he has impressive quickness and field vision. His escapability is totally frustrating to defenders trying to get him on the grass. Most folks are thinking it, while no one wants to say it out loud, but this clearly looks to me like an attempt to possess the next ANTONIO BROWN. Time will tell, and that’s a heck of a burden to bear, but it’s hard to ignore some of the similarities.

Round 3, Pick 83
JUSTIN LAYNE CB MICHIGAN STATE
6’2/192 4.50/40 PP#63
As has happened before in the SPARTANS football program, a WR recruit was converted to CB, and blossomed in his new position. He has a long, somewhat slim frame. His 33″ long arms are appealing to DB coaches. He has the loose hips needed to turn and stay with receivers out of their breaks. His tackling needs work, but he is a willing tackler in run support. I expect him to work in sub-packages as a Rookie, while refining his coverage skills. The STEELERS have done a nice job restocking the talent in their secondary in recent years. LAYNE has starter potential in due time. Despite limited tackling experience, he had 72 tackles last season, and his long arms helped him record 15 PBU’s.

Round 4, Pick 122
BENNY SNELL RB KENTUCKY
5’10/224 4.65/40 PP#210
Despite his lineage and productivity in college, I had a hard time getting past, what I saw as, his limitations to translate his game to the NFL. He is tough and durable, and he shows good balance and determination to get one more yard at the end of his carries, but I failed to see any significant burst of acceleration to, or through, the hole. On the plus side, he has also shown the ability to catch well. I am just skeptical that he will ever be more than an emergency fill-in, and Special Teamer. I saw him as a 6th Rounder at best. He rushed for 1,449 yards last Fall for the WILDCATS, at 5.0 ypc and scored 16 TD’s.

Round 5, Pick 141
ZACH GENTRY TE MICHIGAN
6’7/260 4.70/40 PP#268
This strikes me as clearly having the look and feel of a replacement draft effort. And yes, GENTRY is the long, lean TE to replace a guy like JESSE JAMES. GENTRY surprised a lot of folks in declaring for this Draft, but I doubt another year in the MICHIGAN Offense was going to showcase or develop him dramatically. STEELERS fans are just going to have to exhibit patience, as the team’s coaching staff works on all of his deficiencies on the field. He’ll likely make the team as a 3rd TE, and see spot duty that takes advantage of his length. I had him as a priority URFA, with good upside.

Round 6, Pick 175
SUTTON SMITH ER NORTHERN ILLINOIS
6’0/233 4.68/40 PP#229
SMITH is a one-trick pony, and that trick is a blitzing LB from any spot on the field. He might develop into a hybrid LB/SS player. I got a good look at him in Mobile, at the Senior Bowl, and he’s a high effort guy with a small frame, by NFL standards. He has good instincts, and explosive quickness at the snap. He forces opposing teams to play “Where’s Waldo” when he’s on the field. It will be imperative for him to excel on Special Teams right away, to earn and keep a roster spot. The coaching staff will then have to identify the best ways to use him, and mold him into a pro level player. His stat sheet from 2018 will give you a clue as to his versatility: 61 T’s, 26.5 TFL, 15 Sacks, 9 QBH’s, 1 PBU, 4 FF’s, 1 FR, 2 Blocked Kicks. It’s Round 6, and his overall versatility and energy make this Pick a decent gamble.

Round 6, Pick 192
ISAIAH BUGGS DL ALABAMA
6’3/306 5.13/40 PP#87
BUGGS may not be an elite athlete, but he is a very productive player, and a great locker room presence. For a guy his size, with short, 31 1/4″ arms, he has been very productive for the Tide. Last season, he recorded 51 Tackles, which included 13.5 TFL and 9.5 Sacks. He should be very versatile as a pro, with all the varied formations that defenses use these days. He can play inside, or on the outside. He might be best as a 5-Tech in a base 3-4 scheme. He shows good balance and keeps his feet moving. Even though he is not explosive off the snap, he uses his hands well to keep blockers off of his body, to make plays. He’s an average athlete, but a hard working productive football player. This is excellent value at the Pick, and will add quality depth to their DL group.

Round 6, Pick 207
ULYSEES GILBERT LB AKRON
6’2/228 4.65/40 PP#185
I came away very impressed with his work during the Shrine Week in Florida. He has natural athleticism, and finds the ball well. He will come up to stop the run, but is even better dropping off into coverage. Need I tell you that he’s a natural on Special Teams, with his energy and athleticism. He might be a solid hybrid candidate.

Round 7, Pick 219
DERWIN GRAY OT MARYLAND
6’5/320 5.20/40 PP#NR
I sure hope they made this pick because someone on their staff, especially someone associated with their OL group, saw some serious untapped potential in his play. His game tape from MARYLAND is ugly at times. He can look like a turnstile, with his feet seemingly cemented to the ground, but he has a massive frame, and can move a bit. Perhaps they see him sliding inside to hide his slow feet. IMO, he will end up on their Practice Squad, at best.

BUSH is the crown jewel of this Draft group. If he brings back what they have been missing since the SHAZIER injury, then their D improves significantly. There is some talent in the remainder of the picks, but none that look like an instant upgrade, and a sure thing. JOHNSON needs to come through for them to put some electricity back into their receiving corps, which is good, but doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opponents like when BROWN led the way. I see some nice additions of depth from this group, but the Steelers need more than depth. TOMLIN. and his staff have to get these guys up to snuff, and out on the field contributing as Rookies.

Pigskin